Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I was at a party in Allston in 2005 with Ben, when some wax mustached wannabe skateboard punk walked into the room, stood directly between me and Ben, and began talking about some band he'd seen puke in a similar basement a few weeks before. The subject of Beck's then new album, Guero, came up, and I said "I really like it. It's a little top heavy, but there aren't any songs I actively dislike."
He made the thumbs down gesture with both hands. "'Hell Yes' is okay, but the rest of it? Nah. Nah. It's like Beck's dad music."
I've seen that guy in the past couple of years, still riding his penny-farthing bicycle. Now with two kids in tow, probably named Smock and Duckfart, and like every other person who's ever seen that bicycle, they long to see it and its rider slowly crushed under a steamroller.
I would argue that Guero is Beck's last full on fun album. The Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Soundtrack is a blast, but Beck's contribution is basically an EP, that I included on Midnite Vultures Afterparty. The lyrics are still inventive here, the music is mostly upbeat, and you could put it on the background of a party that wasn't quaalude themed.
"Jackass" isn't even my favorite song on Odelay but the mariachi version, Burro, is a joyous fucken delight that I wouldn't deprive of any Beck fan. It helps set the unusual tone for this summer festive album.
A little radio and car transient noise builds into Rental Car, it has garage fuzz vocals and a nice distorted guitar riff. It's one of the few songs on the album that I couldn't tell you what it's about without actively looking at the lyrics. I can't sing along with it, apart from the yea yea yea and the la la la la la la la parts. But it keeps me moving quickly down the street when I'm listening to it. (It turns out to be a song about a rental car trip that seems like it will end in death.)
So I guess it makes sense to transition it into Farewell Ride. It might be an alternate version of the previous song, but it's more Westerny. Clearer lyrics. Classic American harmonica and string arrangement. Horses in place of rental cars. Some may say this might be your last farewell ride.
Emergency Exit continues the driving to death saga. It feels like another part of the previous track. The tempo barely changes, the instrumentation is similar. It's a little too much / To ask of faith it's a little late / To wait for fate /So tell the angels / What you seen / Scarecrow shadow / On Nazarene is not a terrible epitaph or Beck lyric to go out on.
There is no bad place or bad album for that gorgeous intro lick to Loser to land. I know this is way late in the discography for this, the song that made him famous, but it just fits better on this album than any others. Though, I kind of want it on all of his albums. I remember arguing about the chorus in high school. "It's not nonsense, it's Spanish. Don't you take Spanish? How do you not know the word loser in Spanish? Isn't it what the teacher calls you when you scratch your head into piles of dandruff on your desk?" Get crazy with the Cheez-Whiz.
Electric Music And The Summer People is a dance party classic that they never play. It's got the 70s danceability of "New Pollution" with a late 60s summer clean lyric sound, and some Odelay effects. That's what I like.
The track spirals out into the top-heavy section of Guero. E-Pro is a banger. The first time I listened to this album played, I had to fight myself from just clicking the back button and listening to this again. This was a few years before it became apparent that Boston's WFNX was going to, like most good rock radio stations, disappear, and I would crank this every time it played. Suck it Penny-Farthing Bicycle Dad.
Que Onda Guero is a joyous celebration of Latin American street festival summer days with classic Beck lyrics. Guero, being one of his childhood nicknames. The track closes with Guero being lightly teased as he walks by.
I saw her, yeah I saw her with her black tongue tied / Round the roses / Fist pounding on a vending machine / Toy diamond ring stuck on her finger / With a noose she can hang from the sun / And put it out with her dark sunglasses /Walking crooked down the beach / She spits on the sand where their bones are bleaching / And I know I'm gonna steal her eye / She doesn't even know what's wrong / And I know I'm gonna make her die / Take her where her soul belongs /And I know I'm gonna steal her eye / Nothing that I wouldn't try / Hey, my sun-eyed Girl.
Missing has me changing up my rhythm of my fast walking along with my boots full of rocks to this album. But it doesn't slow me down. It's the last of the tracks that were originally at the beginning of the album.
Look, Penny Farthing Guy was a moron, but Hell Yes is one of the best songs on the album. And I thought that, even before I knew that the female vocalist is Cristina Ricci. It's definitely the song that most seems like it could have been on Midnite Vultures.
Totally Confused, on the other hand, is pure Odelay, maybe even One Foot In The Grave. It's a downer folk ballad with a female backup vocalist. It certainly seems written by a younger Beck, one unsure about love, and one who expresses it directly instead of using fractured imagery to tell his story.
We up the tempo back to "E-Pro" level with Black Tambourine. It's purely a slightly lighter version of that song, with less catchier lyrics. But with an oh-oh-ohhh that I just didn't want to leave off the album. Penny Farthing Guy might have been right about this track.
Broken Drum is one of those songs that I love but never remember the name of. Or the lyrics. Unless I'm listening to it. In which case, I know all the words. It could have been from Sea Change as it's got sweeping sleepy riffs and vocals.
Forget the Jack White appearance, Go It Alone is just a magic song to listen to. While it also has the instrumentation that recalls "E-Pro", it puts the vocals first in both the mix, and in importance. It's spare use of various effects before White crunches in with guitar, is *chef kiss*.
Scarecrow dolphins into the previous song's fade out. It's also a lyric popping song. But it's much more upbeat, despite the nasally downer vocals.
Closing out the album is Earthquake Weather, which hits us with a scratch, and some people talking in the background. It's another song that would have been at home on Odelay but is a welcome closer here, as it leaves us with effects instead of a fade out or a sharp vocal cutoff.
If Odelay was a declaration of weird intent, and Mutations was a lament about how bad relationships can crumple you into a man-smelling ball, then Midnite Vultures Afterparty is the ridiculous dance party you use to shake the Bottle Of Blues away.
The original Midnite Vultures is all weird, bubbly, and bright. I have excised the most repetitive of them, and replaced them with the fuzz bangers off of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Sountrack, a couple of acoustic tracks from One Foot In The Grave, and the song from Sea Change that I accidentally left off of Mutations. I think it ends up making a more complex, but equally fun album.
There are two tracks on Midnite Vultures that could start, end, or be placed on any album by Beck, and they're guaranteed hits. The original album starts with one of them, I've opted for the otheer. Debra is a lost Prince song. I would absolutely believe it, if Beck claimed that Prince wrote it for him. It's an all falsetto song about wanting to have a threesome with someone he met at JC Penny. And her sister. I think her name's Debra.
Mixed Bizness perfectly meshes the sound of Midnite Vultures with the lyricism of Odelay. Word up to the man thing / She's always cold lamping / Visine at the canteen / I just want to watch you dance. And it's hard not to dance to this ridiculous album with is beeps, blorps, and doo-dooo-doos.
Our first scruffy garage song is Threshold, which proudly lets you know where the beginning of the song is while fuzzing the fuzz out of some fuzzy guitar. It's technically by fictional band, Sex Bob-omb, but Beck wrote it, and he performs the fuzz out of it.
On rethinking this album, there are actually three songs that could be hits, and can work as any part of the album. Get Real Paid is a mellow banger which closes with the often missung, rarely understood line, Touch my ass if you're qualified.
Summertime is another Sex Bob-omb song With my peacock hands and my tangerine skulls /
And my grizzly bear face and my voice from Target. It doesn't make me fondly recollect any summers of my youth, or invoke what scene in the movie it was from, but it is a fun sing-along fuzzy song.
I've included the first third of Milk & Honey as it has a nice progressive rise from the previous track into
Sexx Laws! The other surefire hit song. Only prudes and depraved, in-denial Republican Senators don't sing along to this absolute classic about sexual freedom. Let me your chaperone / to the halfway home / I'm a full grown man / but I'm not afraid to cry-y-y-y-y is one of my all-time favorite lyrics.
When Beck was but a wee youngin' in 1994, he dropped not one, not two, but Three albums. And out of those albums, only one track made the radio. Mighty Good Leader is not that song. It's an acoustic sneery dirge off of One Foot In The Grave that's actually a cover of a Skip Jones blues song. I think early folk Beck is important, but not enough that anyone should be forced to listen to a whole album of it. But this is one of two songs from that era that I absolutely love.
Then we get back to the bloop bleep fun part with Pressure Zone, a song I never paid much attention to from the original Midnite Vultures album but which I find much stronger than some of the songs I used to know all the lyrics to.
I don't know how I managed to leave Golden Age off of Mutations, but I actually like that it was available to pop onto this album. It's a classic downtempo Beck ballad, and it's nice to have one well-produced ballad to mix in with the fuzz mantras, the bloopy bleep pop, and the acoustic doldrums.
I'll feed you fruit that don't exist / I'll leave graffiti / Where you've never been kissed / I'll do your laundry / Massage your soul / I'll turn you over / To the highway patrol. I love Nicotine & Gravy. I can't explain why.
Another fun song that I absolutely adore is the Sex Bob-omb anthem Garbage Truck, which doesn't at all remind me of that time I got caught in a couch.
Peaches & Cream is a song that falls somehwere between "Debra" and "Nicotine & Gravy", so I've edited it down to just the first verse because I didn't want to entirely lose the way Beck shouts Peaches and creeeeeeeeam!
The first time I heard Beck's Asshole*, it was being covered by Tom Petty on the She's The One Soundtrack. I love both versions equally.
Closing out the album is another Sex Bob-omb song. There are two versions of Ramona on the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Soundtrack but I prefer the more orchestral version that appears here. It's a sweet little lament for a truly magical girl.
* - If you hold Beck's Asshole to your ear, you can hear Rick James singing the chorus to Sexx Laws
There are those who will tell you that Beck's Mutations and Sea Change are two masterpieces. And the thing is, if you're really sleepy, or want to be really sleepy, they're both good albums. But, at the end of the day, you can cut off some detritus, and end up with a sweet, and varied, low-tempo album that is also fun to quietly sing along to (there are loud sing alongs on other albums). The only track that I really like that I ended up cutting off of this is "Golden Age", which will likely show up on another album.
When I was talking with a friend about the most recent Beck albums (Colors and Hyperspace), she mentioned that she really enjoyed the first single from Hyperspace because it was upbeat. Lyrically, maybe, but it's got a snoozy rhythm, which is fine, but which I don't consider "upbeat". This is a downbeat album. And I've arranged it as such. I've tried to give it some variety via musical influences and instruments, since the whole album has a despairing feel.
I think this is a good song to listen to when you're at home, sad, and not looking to get happy any time soon. It's okay to have days like those. And I hope this works as a worthwhile soundtrack for those times.
As a bridge to Odelay, we're starting this off shoulder shaking with some low key white folk rap Elevator Music. Slipshod rhyming lyrics and background whats. Keyboard chintzes over actual piano. Busy signal percussion.
We're lulled to the country honkytonk piano of Cancelled Check, a breakup song for the end of a friendship with a rotten egg. / It's crystal clear your time is nearly gone. It's nice when someone breaks up with a friend, and not a romantic partner. Sorry, bucko, you're a pain in the neck. There's also some interesting background moaning before the final chorus.
Your sorry eyes cut through the bone / They make it hard to leave you alone / Leave you here wearing your wounds / Waving your guns at somebody new / Baby you're lost / Baby you're lost / Baby you're A Lost Cause. A great moving on song. That friend who done you wrong? Sure, you still care about them, but you can't spare the energy without ruining yourself. So you're going to stop ruining yourself and wave goodbye.
And even though you were hurt, you can't point all your fingers at your former friend. It's Nobody's Fault But (Your) Own. When the road is full of nails / Garbage pails and darkened jails / And their tongues / Are full of heartless tales / That drain on you / Who would ever notice you / You fade into a shaded room. The strings saw away at your heart.
And when you're on a roll, Sing It Again. For those moments when you just want to be alone to think about how everything ended badly, but at least they ended. Right? The imagery is a bit more straight-forward than Odelay Beck, but sometimes you don't have the energy to be all cryptic-like, y'know? Just pull out your harmonica and blow a melancholy blues.
We stay solidly in country piano territory with O Maria, everybody knows the fabric of folly / is falling apart at the seams. This is a sing-along song in a sad country bar anywhere along the timeline. It blows a horn solo. It na na na na nas
Then we get some robot twang country. Cold Brains / Unmoved / Untouched / Unglued. This is one of those, I guess upbeat, downtempo songs about depression that harmonicas against an optimistic bassline and then throws some more effects at you until you wonder if you maybe ate some edibles before you laid down.
If "Cold Brains" was a charcoaled portrait of general sadness, Lonesome Tears paints some watercolor over it. It's more about getting beyond a relationship using questions than "getting over" a relationship by finding answers. If the lyrics were a computer language, it'd be Basic, but it's a pretty simple that then ramps out with some Beatles White Album style effects.
Bottle Of Blues was the song that convinced me that soft Beck was still good Beck. For some reason, I just picture by him by a lake or a river, with a band floating on a nearby dock, singing this song about how he's just generally sad about how he has unrequieted love for someone he probably doesn't even know very well. It's still nobody's fault. But now it's not even really directional like a tired soldier / with nothing to shoot. (And now I'm picturing Neil Patrick Harris saluting, and saying "General Malaise!")
If Little One is a lullaby for a child, it's a depressing listen. I like to think that "Little One" is one of his shorter friends. This previously unmentioned friend was listening to the last few Beck songs, and tells Beck that he's bringing him down, and Beck plays this little ditty expressing his emotions. And the friend rolls over and goes to sleep, knowing that Beck is going to keep Becking.
All the country influence is ok, but Beck is going to get more various influences, so for now let's go somewhere between Jimmy Buffet Florida and steel drum Carribean music with Tropicalia. Beck gets outside of himself so that he can watch what depressed Beck looks like from the outside. Misery waits in vague hotels / to be evicted.
That slightly upbeat track might give you the feeling that you Guess (You're) Doing Fine. You can be sad and still be healthy. I bade a friend farewell / I can do whatever pleases me. What a nice sentiment to end a sad album on. I'm not great, but I'm fine.
Except it wouldn't be true would it? "Guess I'm Doing Fine" was still a sad ballad. Fine is a low, low bar. It ain't happiness. It's Static. We end on this acknowledgement that we might someday we'll be able to laugh about the sadness we're currently feeling, but that doesn't mean we aren't allowed to be sad now.
One of my favorite artists at the turn of the millennium, both when I was a 90s kid, trying to avoid the Kid Rockification of rock, and when I was depressed in Burlington, Vermont, looking for some smooth ballads, was Beck. The two of us were always on the same page. When I was happy, Beck was happy, when I needed to sit in my room and write about love, he was there to croon about how awful it was. Then, at some point in the 2010s, he lost me. I still enjoyed the way his mind works, but he'd entered the 80s Bob Dylan phase of his career. There were still some interesting tracks, but it was mostly just mediocre singer songwriter tunes that didn't live up to his earlier work.
Today, at work, I saw an article about how the new Beck album was very good again. Not a masterpiece, the writer suggested, but no longer just mid-tempo melancholia. So I bought the album, and I'll be toying with that and his more recent albums in the next couple of days.
Until then, I'll share my reimagined albums from him.
Beck is another artist, where I'm less concerned with chronology, and more with how an album sounds together. I'm going to alternate between the more playful albums, and the more sweeping lowkey albums. And there will be many fewer of them than there are actual Beck albums.
You're bored with music. All the rock on the radio sounds like Kurt Cobain is dead, and everyone's raiding his vault. The boy bands are cracking out of their Faberge eggs. Alternative rock makes no more sense. U2 is alternative. Kid Rock is alternative. Green Day is alternative. Marilyn Manson is alernative. Oasis is alternative. Pavement is alternative. Blink 182 is alternative. None of this makes sense to you. Country is almost alternative music as Garth Brooks goes pop, and Shania Twain exists. All the straight up pop is anthemic white ladies or young blonde Mouseketeers. Every R&B song on the radio is either fighting about a guy, hating on a guy, or remembering that Biggie and Tupac are dead. This does make sense, but sometimes you're in a rock mood, and that's what's disappointing you.
That guy who had the song that people didn't understand the lyrics to drops an album with The Dust Brothers, and, ohhh, this doesn't make sense, but in a Glorious way.
Heads are hanging from the garbageman trees / Mouthwash, jukebox, gasoline, / Pistols are pointing at a poor man's pockets / Smiling eyes with 'em out of the sockets. Please. Please more. Devil's Haircut has no bullshit for you. Drum loop background growlers high hat a horn that sounds like a mosquito singing through an elephant's trunk. Scream the chorus at the end.
Then another scream before the twang of aphorisms and geee-tar, Lord Only Knows why this title track isn't called by the album title's name as it Odelays into a Titanic hammock. Don't call us when the new age gets old enough to drink. A rare fade out.
Whistling a tune of country inertia when my neck is broken / and my pants ain't getting no bigger. The emergency broadcast system for line dancers? Sissyneck has the toe touch down to the rhinestone boots. Sweet chorus harmony. Pretends he doesn't care about your problems. Wails over congos.
There's a vinyl hiss. Empty boxes in a pawn shop brain. Spare spare and breakdown. Guitar out of nowhere turns elevator music and the elevator is stuck forever. Twang that mouth harp. Pick that guitar like it's Readymade.
High 5 [Rock The Catskills] hip hops techno. Samples samples vocal fuzz music stops and starts like who is directing the symphony for this silent film? Rap verse. Screamy chorus. Shaming breakdown then bring back the music. Say oooooo la la.
Bring it down. String an alternative (there it is there's that word that stupid nonsense doesn't describe any music I've ever heard label) lullaby. Something's in the way of this slightly countrified every 90s downtempo Ramshackle lament. Your train's in the sand / Ramshackle land /Let the rats watch the races.
From silence, a blues riff country. I like pianos in the evening sun. Truly, the sequel to the first hit that doesn't appear on the album. Spanish chorus untranslated. Harmonica solo metal. Boop your beep in a gleep gleep record scratch. Hotwax residues / you never lose in your razorblade shoes. says The Enchanting Wizard Of Rhythm.
Tom Waits drags a set of junkyard windchimes through a swamp, shooting venom at the passersby. Derelict Dylan steals a sitar packed a suitcase and threw it away. Passes the cashed song to the left. An organ will see you out, folk.
Disco the funk into some colored lights and dance your chaos to The New Pollution. Alternawhat? Alternawho? Saxaphone in the alternawhich. Keyboard jangle. She's got a paradise camouflage / Like a whip-crack sending me shivers / She's a boat through a strip-mine ocean / Riding low on the drunken rivers. Let your chaos wind down to sway.
Novacane is back to samples and simple strings. Wait, no. Harmonica and buzz guitar. Wait, no. Disco hook. No, wait. Keep on talking like a Novocaine hurricane / Low static on the poor man's short-wave. Radio jumps into Beastie Boy fuzz. Scratch the record. Change the channel. This chaos. This buzzsaw. This Moog? This tonal atonal. This Daft Punk is listening. This wind down stereo out.
Tropicalia melancholia. I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes. / Loose ends tying the noose in the back of my mind. Is none of this album actually the happy the music makes? Somber bombast. Bob Dylan harmonica. Beck beck bob. Beck beck dust. Donkey donkey donkey. Jackass.
Record hiss skip. Record hiss. Needle down. Sweet sweet samples and tones are Where It's At. That was a good drum break.
Here we go here we go Nirvana 90s. Alternathis, I guess. Grunge Minus vinyl pops. It's a sensation / A bankrupt corpse / In the garbage classes / With the crutches of frogs / Frogs! Frogs! Frogs! Fizzle. Twang. Out.